Arriving at your destination airport to discover that your checked-in bags are somewhere else is a sufficiently common occurrence to have travelers staring anxiously at the stationary carousel, then fixedly watching the point where bags are first seen, and then breathing a sigh of relief on seeing their bags finally appear. SITA reports1 that 4 billion passengers checked in 4.5 billion bags last year. While only about six bags per thousand passengers get lost, lost bags (more gently termed by the airline industry ‘mishandled baggage’) is a significant problem for airlines, airport owners and managers, and their customers. SITA further reports2 that in 2016 alone, baggage mishandling cost the industry US$2.1 billion, and in the period 2007-2016, the industry cost was a staggering US$27 Billion. The problem is easing3 with the use of new technology, but millions of pieces of luggage are still being ‘lost’ each year, costing the airlines significant amounts, and causing considerable aggravation for travelers.4
Too many BPM initiatives fail. We’ve got to do better. In this article, I discuss an important area where considerable improvement can be realized. Process-based management is not achieved and sustained by having the right software and methods, indeed you can probably make it work well with the wrong software and methods. Done properly, process-based management is a systemic approach to the relentless pursuit of organizational performance improvement. It’s largely a mind game. Put simply, to ‘do process’, an organization, its people, and their teams need to ‘think process’. In a process-centric organization, all employees are conscious that their roles are to participate in executing a range of processes. They think beyond the activities described in their own job descriptions to see their roles in the bigger picture of creating, accumulating, and delivering value to customers and other stakeholders via cross-functional processes. Yes, that is a big change. The unrelenting emphasis is on conscious, cross-functional collaboration—and that is often challenging for individuals and functional units in an organization. Achievement of effective, sustained, process-based management is ninety per cent mindset and ten per cent toolset. Too often, the focus is on the ten per cent at the expense of the ninety per cent. Tools, including software, systems, methods, and techniques, are critically important—the full one hundred per cent is needed—but the tools are not the main game. Having the right tools is necessary but nowhere near sufficient for success. It might be argued that the mindset/toolset emphasis is 80/20, or perhaps even 70/30, rather than 90/10, but it’s certainly not the reverse of any of those. Tools and techniques alone won’t create a viral spread of the idea of process-based management. Hearts and minds are also needed. To have any value, process-based management must support achievement of organizational objectives.
Many organizations face the complex dilemma of dealing with major strategic and operational changes, often simultaneously. The complexity of the management challenge is increasing, often with alarming speed and consequences. This causes, not just a superabundance of operational problems, but strategic hazards that may test the viability of the organization. Key macro-challenges might include: radically increased customer expectations sector and business-model disruption reducing costs of market entry intensified competition radically and rapidly changing technology cost pressures mounting regulatory-compliance demands diminishing staff numbers increasing operational complexity fragile workforce enthusiasm These are mission-critical problems and there is a growing realization that something new is needed if they are to be solved. The organization chart shapes traditional management. Management effort consequently focuses on functional areas, i.e. ‘boxes on the chart’, and is easily fragmented. This form of ‘functional’ management has always been a key feature of management practice. Long before the invention of the theory of contemporary management in the first half of the twentieth century, organizations have structured themselves into units based on the type of work performed.
Many articles have described the essential tools of achieving and sustaining process-based management. The Tregear Circles define the management meta-model that focuses on genuine, targeted, and evidence-based performance improvement. The 7Enablers of BPM describes how process-based management, via the circles, is enabled and embedded.
Readers in parts of the world where Christmas is celebrated (or is that selleberated!) well understand the rituals of giving and receiving. Santa Clause is checking inventory, supply chain managers are frantic, the transport pool is making final adjustments, and the naughty/nice lists are being debated and finalized. In other parts of the world, readers have their own celebration and remembrance festivals through the year. The giving and receiving of gifts, goodwill and grace are important parts of our lives. This has me thinking, inevitably, about processes. Yes, I know – sad, but true! It is common to say that business processes are the conduits through which every organization delivers value to its customers and other stakeholders. Therefore, business processes need to be thoughtfully managed and continuously improved to maintain an unimpeded flow of value. Many readers will agree that this is the essential premise of Business Process Management, the touchstone on which all other related process-centric management, governance, measurement and technology initiatives rely. However, this is not complete. This view of a one-way flow of value is a distortion of what actually happens. It is not enough to deliver value, we must always exchange value. Of course, every organization exists to deliver some form of value proposition to customers and other stakeholders and we see these documented in Mission, Vision or other statements of strategic intent. Business processes are the pathways through which we execute that intent. But it’s not a one-way street. Organizations, at least the successful ones, deliver value and they must also be receiving value in return. Organizations are not infinite value generators, content to stream out value endlessly and for no purpose. There must be a return path.